Creating a highly personalised in store experience is retail nirvana. Yet with limited numbers of store associates managing stock and display as well as customers, is personal service always an option? And with technology in-store on the rise the temptation to overload the store associates with data is strong. Retailers may need to take a step back, prioritise activity and enable time challenged associates to turn on personalisation just when it is needed most.
Even with the decline in footfall, the store remains a critical component of the overall retail mix. In addition to the increasingly important fulfilment role – for click and collect, reserve and collect or even fulfil from store for home delivery – the store is the only chance for that essential face to face interaction that can really transform a customer’s perception of a brand.
But in a busy store, with perhaps just two store associates juggling replenishment, returns, sales, deliveries and display, there is rarely time to enter into deep, personal shopping style interactions.
Store associates therefore play a critical role here; they need to be intuitive, be able to read customer body language and, of course, be supported with up to date customer and product information. But information alone is not the answer; the customer experience must also reflect expectation and brand value and not just be led by the features of the available technology. That means thinking differently and balancing what is theoretically possible with what is achievable within the current store model.
The first challenge is that today’s consumer is ‘always on’ and they expect the same connected experience from the store associate that they can receive online. And at the very least, store associates should not only be mobile enabled, but also able to conduct every aspect of a customer interaction from one device, without leaving an individual’s side. And whether the customer is looking to ‘see, buy, leave’ or spend time getting advice on complementary products, the combination of mobile in-store technology and store associate training should ensure that expectation is met.
But rather than burdening store associates with a data deluge of past purchases, preferences, wish lists and recommendations, retailers must ask themselves what is the priority? Where are the biggest gains to be made? What is the most useful piece of information? And they have a range of personalisation levels available dependant on the consumer.
For example, what happens when the retailer flags to the store associate that the customer’s last interaction with the business was not 100 per cent positive and prompted a call to customer service? The store associate knows in this case that they are dealing with a high priority individual, that this store visit, perhaps armed with the offending garment, is potentially the last chance saloon. Empowered with both all the relevant information and the ability to offer the customer a free gift voucher, for example, the store associate can immediately personalise the experience and, hopefully, turn the previous bad experience and resulting negative perception into a positive. Combining this prioritisation with data relevance enables time challenged Associates to truly harness personalisation when it is needed most.
In conclusion, this is the current reality of bricks and mortar retailing. Stores are still a hugely critical aspect of the customer experience and store associates will continue to play a vital role in driving customer engagement and building brand loyalty. But retailers must focus on when and to whom to offer this service. Combine this with what can be achieved when the Store Associate is empowered with the right mix of data and retailers will be able to prioritise activities and supply targeted information that supports not only the customer experience but also the existing skills and intuition of the store association.
Kevin Swanwick is senior director retail solutions at Manhattan Associates.